UX vs. UI: What’s the Difference?

User Experience Design vs User Interface Design

If you work in a business that aims to get its customers to do something, like buy a product or use a service (hint: that’s all of us), User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are equally important.

It has come to a stage where, even in boardrooms and job interviews, the terms are being used synonymously with devastating results. At UxD we say enough is enough! It is what we feel is part of our duty to bust this myth. UI is not UX! They are distinctly different and this must be understood.

It is important for us to diminish any confusion between user experience design and user interface design because one is at the core of our mission and the latter is an enabler to that core. UI design is important but UX design is at the center of it all.

Do We Have to Know the Difference?

Yes! It is a dangerous assumption to think that a user interface design engineer knows the ins and outs of user experience design. The fact remains when we reverse the situation and assume a UX design engineer knows what it takes deliver the best UI design. Yes, they might borrow from each other in many ways but their inherent objectives are miles away from each other. It has been suggested that perhaps the confusion lies in the “U” in both abbreviations for UX and UI, we don’t know. We would just like to clarify things.

True at times designers are familiar with both UI and UX and capable in each of the fields, but as their names suggest, user experience design and user interface design differ in nature and objectives. In essence UI is functional, proving tools (approach and elements) with which users are enabled to interact with a system, in this case, a website or app.

A user would like to attend a party for instance. Standing between her and the party is a door. The doorknob is the UI (user interface) to her accessing the party. UI does not consider her reaction (experience) to the process of her gaining access to the party. The door might be locked, bad UI, translating to a bad user experience (UX). Or perhaps, the door is a breeze to open, but the party is extremely underwhelming, this is good UI but bad UX; the overall experience is still bad. UX is about the intangible: feelings and memories (experiences). The user won’t remember the doorknob, but will remember how the process of attending the party made her feel (whether she accessed the party successfully or not.)

We need to ask ourselves what is the bigger picture, the intended UX, and work our way backwards ensuring that the UI enables the intended UX to happen accordingly. We should not see UI as just a means to UX, but rather UX as the goal that UI helps to make happen. We cannot have one without the other. User experience makes a brand whilst user interface design helps the user interact with the brand. The UX sets the impressions of not just a website or app, but of the organization behind a website.

User Experience vs User Interface

When a user is presented with a product, in this case your website or app, they are more concerned about how using that product makes them feel rather that what the components of the site are.

Remember the Gestalt theory? The user is aware of the overall shape of the site rather than the building blocks. Does the bigger picture on your site trigger the user emotionally? The answer to this question lies in the quality of UX.

The UX design of your website is all encompassing. It affects the user’s perception of not only your website, but the products and services you’re offering and by extension, the quality of your company. A positive UX will lead to positivity throughout and positive memories of your site. After all, we are dealing with emotional memory here. Humans remember selectively, mostly the experiences that conjure up the most emotions; good or bad.

The user might, at best, vaguely remember the invitation (UI) you sent her to your party and the shining doorknob (also UI) she used to enter, but did she enjoy (UX) the party? That is, ultimately, what she will remember of the whole experience and will determine whether she will come back when you throw your next party.